The Baer Faxt investigates: is LA finally a market destination?

Gagosian booth at Frieze Los Angeles 2023. Photo: James Jackman / CKA. Courtesy of Frieze.

When Frieze first announced it would launch a Los Angeles edition in 2019, there was some speculation that the fair would flop. Despite consecutive editions in London since 2003 and in New York since 2012, Los Angeles was as of yet unconquered frontier, one where other art fairs—like Art Platform Los Angeles, FIAC and Paris Photo—had struggled to find their footing and shuttered after reports of low sales and attendance.

Seemingly against all odds, and as other major international fairs like Masterpiece cancel or postpone their 2023 editions, Frieze Los Angeles is celebrating its largest iteration to date this year. And its success is permeating across the region, helping to elevate Los Angeles as a full-fledged art market destination.

“There’s been a significant expansion this year but the growth of the fair has been continuous since we started,” the Frieze Los Angeles director, Christine Messineo, tells The Baer Faxt. “There’s a market in Los Angeles that Frieze has played a role in revealing and we were aware—as a global company—that Los Angeles is a global destination.”

Frieze Los Angeles 2023. Photo: James Jackman / CKA. Courtesy of Frieze.

The 2023 edition of the fair features more than 120 galleries from over 20 countries, up from the 70 exhibitors included in its debut at Paramount Studios, which received around 30,000 visitors (including vast amounts of celebrities like Brad Pitt, Jodie Foster and others). The fair experienced its first significant expansion just before the pandemic lockdown in 2020, with an edition featuring 75 galleries where attendance spiked to over 35,000. A pandemic-related hiatus in 2021 saw the fair return in 2022 with over 100 exhibitors and a slight drop in attendance.

While the fair takes pride in its strong emphasis on local galleries, “what Frieze has actually excelled at is bringing in East Coasters, Europeans and Asian collectors to Los Angeles,” Messineo says. “This year we have more collectors coming from Korea than ever before, for example.”

Goodman Gallery booth at Frieze Los Angeles 2023. Photo: James Jackman / CKA.

Frieze organizers expect that attendance figures will spike again this year, thanks in part to its new venue at Santa Monica Airport, which has allowed the fair to host some of its most ambitious public commissions to date, such as Chris Burden’s monumental 40 Foot Stepped Skyscraper (2011), a towering structure installed at the entrance of the Barker Hangar and realized in collaboration with the Art Production Fund and Gagosian (it was first exhibited at Artgenève in 2019).

The fair’s Focus section, which features galleries 12 years or younger, has nearly doubled in size as the Los Angeles market piques the interest of a new and younger collector demographic. The overall success of the fair has also helped “propel an interest in Los Angeles in general, with new galleries coming in and galleries with an existing presence in Los Angeles setting up additional spaces,” Messineo adds.

Indeed, an influx of galleries have set up shop in Los Angeles. Some major dealers will move in later this year, including David Zwirner, whose originally scheduled January opening has been delayed, along with Perrotin and James Fuentes. Standing in his new parking lot, Fuentes passed along a bit of wisdom for out-of-towners setting up shop in LA: “Jeffrey Deitch gave me two pieces of advice. One, you have to have parking. Two, you have to show up, you can’t just phone it in and stay in New York all the time.”

Art dealer James Fuentes in his upcoming LA space.

Some other galleries are also adding new locations, such as François Ghebaly and Hauser & Wirth, the latter of which opened a second space in West Hollywood this week with an exhibition by George Condo, nearly seven years after the debut of its downtown space.

“Even before we opened a space downtown, we had a long relationship with Los Angeles since some of our most important artists are living and working here,” says the gallery’s partner and executive director, Stacen Berg. “For a European gallery, Los Angeles is another planet and feels very exotic. Plus, our artists love this city as a place to work. They can have bigger spaces to work and they are kind of outside of the heat of the market that you have in New York.”

Separate locations means that the gallery can “hit different audiences”, a strategy Hauser & Wirth has employed in several other cities. “Expanding in LA for us is about deepening our relationship with the city and recognizing that this is a vast place that has different pockets—the East Side, the West Side,” she says. “You can do different types of exhibitions, and you have different people who live there or are popping into the gallery.”

Installation view, George Condo: People Are Strange, Hauser & Wirth, West Hollywood (15 February–22 April 2023). © George Condo. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Keith Lubow.

She adds: “I feel like I always get this question: has LA arrived? And yes, LA arrived a long time ago. Some of the ‘great exhibitions’ have happened here. There’s always been collectors in LA but I think maybe in the past they preferred to buy out of New York, and that is what has probably changed in recent years. That’s the interesting thing about art—you never know who you are going to connect with. It’s a very subjective, personal thing.”